Magic Lemon Cream Pie

This Magic Lemon Cream Pie came in handy during a recent visit to my parents’ house – their oven was broken, so this no-bake recipe saved the day!

The lemon pie filling consists of only three ingredients: condensed milk, lemon juice, and lemon zest. The “magic” comes from the reaction of casein (a protein in milk) with acid from lemons. When mixed with enough lemon juice, the condensed milk coagulates almost instantly, with just a little refrigeration needed to firm it up completely. Combined with a crumb crust and a whipped cream topping, this pie can truly be made “without going near a stove” as advertised.

Image of a smiling woman holding a pie. Text reads "You won't believe it...this woman can make a lemon pie - filling and crust - without going near a stove. And it's delicious! The magic recipe is on page 26 (magic lemon cream pie)."
From Magic! The Most Amazing Short-cuts in Cooking You Ever Heard Of, c. 1933.

The ingenious recipe was developed by Borden’s in the early 1930s as one of many recipes to promote their Eagle Brand condensed milk. Promoted heavily in Borden’s publications, the magic pie spread quickly across the United States (although interestingly, a slight variation called “Magic Lemon Meringue Pie” seems to have been more popular – even though the meringue requires baking). Chef Stella Parks even theorizes that this Magic Lemon Cream Pie recipe was the basis for the invention of key lime pie, as cooks in Florida substituted limes for lemons.

Magic Lemon Cream Pie:

  • 1 1/3 cups (1 can) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream (note: I doubled the amount of whipping cream and sugar for more topping)
  • 2 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
  • Vanilla wafers or graham crackers for crust
  1. To make the crust, roll enough vanilla wafers or graham crackers to make about 3/4 cup of crumbs (I used vanilla wafers).
  2. Stand additional vanilla wafers or graham crackers around the inside edge of an 8-inch pie plate. Cover the bottom of the pie plate with crumbs, and fill in the spaces between the wafers with more crumbs.
  3. Thoroughly mix together the condensed milk, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Pour the mixture into the pie plate carefully without disturbing the crumbs.
  4. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.
  5. Whisk whipping cream and confectioner’s sugar until stiff peaks form. Spread whipped cream on the pie (for a slightly dressier piped topping like I did, double the whipping cream and sugar, spread half the whipped cream on the pie, then pipe the remaining half over it in fancy designs).
Vanilla wafer crumb crust
crumb crust and filling

Tasting notes:

At the risk of sounding like an overenthusiastic 1930’s advertisement, it’s amazing that a pie filling with only 3 ingredients tastes this good. The tartness of the lemon balances perfectly with the sweetness of the whipped cream topping and the vanilla wafers in the crust. And, as advertised, the pie is so easy to make it is almost “magic.” My only complaint is that the crumb crust doesn’t hold together well, so it’s very difficult to cut neat slices; but since I am perfectly happy to eat this out of the pie dish with a spoon, I consider that a very minor problem. This will definitely be my go-to pie for future oven disasters, or simply any time when it’s too hot to bake.


The Borden Company. (ca. 1933). Magic! The most amazing short-cuts in cooking you ever heard of.

Parks, S. (2017). Bravetart: Iconic American desserts. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

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